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Bulletptoof Cowherd | January 2023

by Cheryl Kepes

Photos courtesy Musgrave Angus

Musgrave Angus develops cattle that work for cattlemen and women from coast to coast and producers around the globe.

Occasionally the owners of Musgrave Angus stop to pinch themselves. The notoriety their Angus operation now possesses seems almost unreal. In the past decade, the cattle and crop operation, situated in rural Illinois, rose from a dot on the map to prominence on the world agricultural stage. “We have had people come look at cattle and buy semen or embryos from all over the world,” Tyler Musgrave shared. “We have been very blessed and fortunate for that.”

Brothers, Tyler and Andy Musgrave, along with their father, Melvin Musgrave, operate the herd of 350 registered Angus cows near Griggsville, Illinois. The Angus cattle operation started when Melvin acquired an Angus heifer from a neighbor for a 4-H project in his youth. Now six decades later, purebred and commercial producers alike seek out Musgrave Angus genetics for quality, reliable seedstock and herd sires. The Musgraves diversify their operation by farming 3,000 acres of corn and soybeans. Melvin and Cathy, along with Tyler and his wife Sarah, and Andy and his wife Beth, collaborate to manage the ever changing, always busy operation.

Social Media Splash

The Musgraves were well on their way to creating a rock-solid cow herd when their operation caught the eye of producers around the world. The international stage fell upon the family unexpectedly.

During a routine day on the farm in 2015, Tyler slipped out his cell phone, snapped a picture of one of the bulls standing in the pasture, and posted it on Facebook. “I was new to Facebook and a lot of people saw it and it started getting shared around and then people started calling and asking about him, and next thing you know they are coming to look at him,” Tyler explained. “We leased him to Beef-360 semen company and now he is one of the most famous Angus bulls in the world.”

The bull in the middle of the social media frenzy was LD Capitalist 316. At one time, the sire ranked number three in the United States for breed registrations. LD Capitalist 316 also ranked number one in Australia and New Zealand for breed registrations for two years in a row. “He might be one of the most heavily used sires of all time around the world,” Tyler shared. “He is ten years old, and they are still collecting him and sending it to South America. The bull has had more shelf life of any bull in modern time.”

Bulletproof Cow Herd

Though LD Capitalist 316 shined the spotlight on Musgrave Angus, the herd itself is what ultimately captivated cattle producers. Visitors from throughout the United States, Mexico, Australia, New Zealand, South America, and Canada routinely travel to Musgrave Angus to view their operation. “I know there has been over a hundred people from Australia visit us, and for a while we were getting a different group from Australia every two weeks,” Tyler stated.

It’s taken years of strategic planning and executing to develop a cow herd filled with multiple generations of good cows with stacked pedigrees. “I think we have built a really strong almost bulletproof cow herd here,” Tyler shared. “If you look at a cow pedigree a lot of the animals in the pedigree will be something we bred on the farm that’s out of another really good cow, so we have a lot of really good cow families laced in each one of these pedigrees.”

The Musgraves focus on phenotype, performance, fleshing ease, and strong maternal traits. The generations of proven cow families in each animal’s pedigree produces consistency and quality. This also gives the Musgraves flexibility when making mating selections for their females. The predictability of quality progeny allows the Musgraves to breed their cows to different types of bulls and still get the excellence they have come to expect.

Breeding Program

A couple of years ago the Musgraves amped up their embryo work to bring a greater focus on multiplying progeny out of their elite cows. Musgrave Angus utilizes five to six donor cows, implanting 60 embryos each year. Most of the embryos are implanted in a co-op herd. Additionally, the operation sells embryos, pregnancies, and flushes.

All the cows in the herd are bred one time via AI in the spring, then exposed to a herd sire. “We will walk our herd sire behind them, and when I say we are going to walk our herd sires behind them, these are the best herd bulls we can find and we have invested heavily in acquiring a bull battery that are the best we can come up with for our cow herd,” Tyler explained. Musgrave Angus has its own semen directory and owns bulls that are listed in other semen catalogs and companies.

Marketing Strategies

The Musgraves focus on finding specific markets for their entire calf crop. “Very few of our cattle go to the sale barn, we have tried to create a niche market for all of them,” Tyler stated. In the spring, they host a production sale marketing 90 to 100 bulls. During the spring sale, the family sells 40 cow/calf pairs and 25 open heifers. Customers also purchase bulls off the farm via private treaty. A fall online sale serves as a vehicle for marketing heifer calves as well.

After all the sales, the balance of the calf crop rotates into Sarah’s branded beef business, Musgrave Angus Premium Beef. The beef business processes approximately 25 steers a year and sells product at two local stores.

Musgrave Difference

The family attributes the cattle operation’s success to the proven performance of Musgrave Angus genetics. Not only do the cattle work for the Musgraves, but for their customers as well. “Musgrave genetics stand out in herds in different places across the country and they have done well for people and people have had success with them,” Tyler said. “I think that is one reason why people look here as a place to buy seedstock; the genetics work and breed on and the buyers know that.”

Musgrave Angus operates in a unique part of Illinois. The Mississippi and Illinois rivers flank the farming operation. Their land lies between the two river bluffs. Large pastures and rough terrain comprise much of the acreage.

The Musgraves credit the environment and terrain at their farm for aiding in the development of hardy, sound cattle. The hot summers and cold winters prepare their cattle to adapt to most any climate. Additionally, the predominant forage in the pastures is fescue. Therefore, the Musgraves select for cattle that naturally shed their hair and slick off in the spring and summer. “Something else that goes along with the fescue is the structural soundness and hoof quality of your cattle, we have a lot of rough terrain here in Pike County, so cattle have to be sound and mobile,” Tyler said.

Customer Herd Visits

Though the Musgraves welcome visitors to their farm, an integral part of their management practice entails visits to as many of their customers’ operations as possible. The visits give the Musgraves insight into how the genetics they have sold are working. Evaluating their customers’ herds also helps the Musgraves determine what they need to be doing on their operation to produce genetics that best benefit their customers. “We are only going to be successful if they are successful. So, we need to go there, and we need to help them succeed,” Tyler said.

Day-in-and-day-out the Musgraves thrive on working together and improving their Angus operation. Between the Angus cattle and the grain farm there is rarely a spare moment. But each day the family works with the same goal in mind. “We need to improve our product and make it better, that way we can improve our customers’ cattle. That is a goal we never lose sight of,” Tyler concluded.

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